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Paul Taylor's Respect For Nature: Human Superiority

1070 words - 4 pages

In Respect for Nature, Paul Taylor develops the following four elements of the biocentric outlook on nature:
1. Humans are members of the Earth's community of life in the same sense and on the same terms as other living things.
2. The natural world is an interdependent system.
3. Each organism is a Teleological Center of Life (TCL) with a good of its own.
4. Humans are not inherently superior to other living things.

Taylor believes that if one concedes and accepts the first three components then acceptance of the fourth component is not unreasonable. He also suggests that in order to adopt the attitude of respect for nature one must accept all four elements of the biocentric outlook. “Once we reject the claim that humans are superior either in merit or in worth to other living things, we are ready to adopt the attitude of respect. The denial of human superiority is itself the result of taking the perspective on nature built into the first three elements of the biocentric outlook” (Taylor 153). This is where Taylor is mistaken. I will argue in the subsequent paper that humans, as a condition of moral agency, are superior to other living things and that one does not need to accept Taylor’s fourth element in order to adopt the attitude of respect for nature.
Most would agree with Taylor’s first two elements of the biocentric outlook on nature. The first element it is undeniably true; humans are indeed members of Earth’s community. Taylor pushes this further and asserts that humans are non-privileged members of the earth’s community of life. Humans, just like all other living organisms, have biological requirements to live. Moreover, “[w]e, as they, are vulnerable. We share with them an inability to guarantee the fundamental conditions of our existence” (Hettinger). Without other living things, especially plants, humans could not survive. On the other hand, nearly all organisms can exist without humans. There are some exceptions to this, such as endangered species or pets but, in general, most wildlife does not need human presence in order to survive. This is a fact of life and is accepted as an ecological truth. Accepting and understanding our equality with and interdependence on the Earth’s community of life is the first step in adopting the attitude of respect for nature.
The third component, however, is somewhat difficult to grasp and harder for some to accept; but it is also the most crucial when adopting the attitude of respect. If one fails to accept Taylor’s third element then one cannot adopt the attitude of respect. This is where Taylor is mistaken. Taylor fails, or at least neglects, to consider the importance of his third element. Instead, he places most of the emphasis on moving to deny human superiority and then concludes that by doing so only then can one respect nature. Yet, in order to allow Taylor’s fourth element, one must first concede that all Teleological Centers of Life have equal inherent...

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